Digital Business Strategy: 8 Gut-Check Questions - InformationWeek

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Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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Digital Business Strategy: 8 Gut-Check Questions

It's the right time to ask the uncomfortable questions.

Just to prove I don't belong anywhere near the hospitality business, here's my promise to InformationWeek Conference attendees: We'll make you feel uncomfortable.

Our conference this year [you can check out the full program and register here] explores strategies and obstacles for what has come to be known as Digital Business. You'll hear from the CIOs of General Motors, GE Power & Water, the NFL, Eli Lilly, UPMC, Dish Network, and other companies. If we do our job right, the discussions you hear and take part in will challenge your thinking about mobile apps, data analytics, cloud computing, the Internet of things, and more. You'll take away actionable ideas for what you need to make happen now in your companies.

Digital business is a work in progress -- it's only barely started at most companies. So it's the right time to ask hard questions about IT's role in that digital transformation, and whether IT's doing enough to drive it. Here are eight questions to ask, along with some of the speakers who will explore them at our conference on March 31 and April 1 in Las Vegas. We hope you'll join us there.

1. If marketing has a game-changing app idea for our customers, will they even call our IT organization?
Marketing and IT teams aren't BFFs, and just one third of companies treat mobile app development as part of a larger digital strategy, InformationWeek's survey on digital business finds. Companies are often scrambling to follow a competitor's mobile offering, or to goose near-term results. Does internal IT have the established relationships to know business units' needs, and a reputation for speedy, glitch-free delivery?

Accenture digital business expert Mark McDonald will discuss the role of IT leaders in creating and executing digital strategies, in a discussion with Avnet senior VP Dave Bent. National Football League CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle will discuss the role her IT team plays in the NFL's digital initiatives. For too many companies, the approach they're taking isn't working: Three out of five companies in our survey rate their customer-facing digital presence as average to poor.

2. Can we make the right decisions with that slagheap of data we're collecting?
The "exponential" growth of enterprise data stores is a myth -- our State of Storage survey finds that about three-fourths of companies are experiencing data growth of between 10% and 49% a year. What is real is the pressure to make far better use of the data companies have, and to analyze select sources of new data -- production data, social media sentiment data, clickstream data -- that can help drive practical results.

Our big data panel session, led by InformationWeek executive editor and big data expert Doug Henschen, will include Weather Co. CIO Bryson Koehler and Paytronix CEO Andrew Robbins, who will discuss platforms and tactics, and where they do and don't make sense.

3. Is our sales technology trapped in the '90s?
Actually, were those huge three-ring binders all that state of the art in the '90s? Tablets are changing the landscape for sales pros, providing a platform that's more convenient to carry, easier to update, and more effective in one-on-one conversations than either a laptop or the dreaded binder. The difference maker is what's on those tablets, though. Eli Lilly CTO Mike Meadows will describe how his company mobilized a global salesforce with better insight as well as new devices.

4. If we succeed at digital business, will our IT infrastructure crumple under the demand?
Two kinds of demand can crush IT: demand from customers and demand from business units. Putting an app in front of customers changes the rules: Any downtime is deadly. So IT needs a flexible datacenter infrastructure that can respond to demand spikes.

But don't forget about internal demand. If IT succeeds and delivers a killer digital fix -- driving customer engagement or lowering operational costs -- to one digital business unit, can it meet the demand that will create from other business units? Doing so means having the right internal talent, infrastructure, integration, and data access, and a way to set technology priorities.

GM CIO Randy Mott
GM CIO Randy Mott

When General Motors CIO Randy Mott joined the company two years ago, he decided that GM didn't have that necessary capacity to innovate. Mott has spent two years moving from 90% outsourced IT toward 90% insourced, all while building and consolidating state-of-the-art datacenters, overhauling the process for how projects get approved, and changing the culture. Mott will discuss that transformation at the InformationWeek Conference.

5. Are we plugged into the Silicon Valley startup scene, or waiting for innovation to knock on our door?
There's a new wave of enterprise IT innovation coming, and it will benefit companies that tap into it in two ways.

One is as early adopters. Cloud datacenters and software, new analytics capabilities, social business models, and mobile development tools are changing what's possible in IT, as well as the price point and speed it takes to get things done. Think of tech providers like GitHub, which bring concepts of online social sharing to software and product development.

We'll have the CEOs of three such disruptive startups on one panel -- SnapLogic (cloud integration), Kenandy (cloud ERP), and Anaplan (cloud-based business planning). And we'll have keynote interviews with Oracle President Mark Hurd and Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie.

The second way is as a participant, innovating alongside this startup ecosystem. A marquee first enterprise customer is more precious than funding for a startup. Companies from GE to Walmart to CapitalOne have set up labs in the Bay area to tap the energy and latest trends, and sometimes co-develop with vendors.

6. Are some of our tech innovations good enough to sell, making our IT a revenue source?
UPMC (formerly University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) has set up a development lab of more than 120 people that's turning the IT needs of its clinicians and insurance teams into marketable products. Usually it does so in partnership with a startup vendor -- the startup gets UPMC's healthcare expertise and a working environment to hone a product; UPMC gets the startup's technology expertise. The head of UPMC's development lab, Rebecca Kaul, and UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh will discuss what it takes to make IT a revenue source. (Kaul will also help lead our Women in IT Leadership networking breakfast.)

7. Could the Internet of things blow up our business model?
Google paid $3.2 billion for Nest, a small maker of thermostats that connect to the Internet to collect data and automate temperature settings. The promise is that Internet-connected devices plus data analytics on the backend will lead to better services. The uncomfortable question: If Google set its sites on your business with a multibillion-dollar initiative, are you up to the challenge?

GE is among the leading companies putting connected devices and analytics to use in its products. GE Power & Water CIO Jim Fowler will discuss how his teams are applying these ideas to improve the performance of power plants, water treatment centers, wind turbines, and more.

8. Is your security strategy ready for a "mobile first" mentality?
The crossing point is coming. From banks to real estate brokers to retailers, companies see a much larger percentage of their customers accessing their products and services from mobile devices. They can see a point coming where mobile will overtake desktop access.

As a result, companies are starting to think mobile first, whether for customers or employees. We'll explore this idea, and the security implications, in at least two sessions. One is a workshop exploring the challenges of mobile security -- a breakout, interactive session led by InGuardian security analyst John Sawyer. The other session explores the range of consumerization problems CIOs face, with insight from Dish Network CIO Mike McClaskey and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated CIO Onyeka Nchege.

Throughout all of our conference sessions, we'll make the discussion interactive -- so that you don't have to stew on your own uncomfortable questions, you can query the speakers. We hope you'll join us in this conversation.

Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
2/25/2014 | 3:41:23 PM
Re: IT As Revenue Source
I think there are only a few select IT groups that can split their attention and resources to both internal and external focuses – at least without significant changes.  Many of the IT departments I know would welcome marketing going out to bid for their projects.  It's not always smart to do everything in-house.  The issue, as pointed out by others is the relationship, being involved in the process to make sure marketing has a properly prepared RFP and such.
User Rank: Strategist
2/24/2014 | 10:05:04 PM
Re: BYOD: biggest pain points
Scale is a valid point, and I would ask you to consider the first wave when the PC entered the workspace, initially it was just the accounting departments (clearly a very small intrusion at first) and was characterized by numerous vendors spanning Timex, Commodore, and Atari well before the entry of IBM. Today the desktop and laptop environment is so proflic, that people forget that it was not always this way.

Cellphone technology created a similar wave and policies evolved via the needs based usage. The difference is that it began with the sales departments and C level executives. There were many evolutions in the technologies usage, especially with the "Push-to-Talk" innovation. And again policies evolved to address the scope of management based on the needs of the company ecosystem.

The opening of Internet access to the common desktop is another change that was equally as massive in scope. Businesses learned (albeit slowly) that not everyone needed unfettered access due to the equally massive oppportunity to waste time, company resources and ultimately lower profitability.

The question I see in not one of scale, but rather one regarding the needs of the company in the workplace. How much of a blurring in employee's personal lives should be acceptable when one is being paid to focus on completing mission critical objectives. The Blackberry example is significant because it highlights this use case.

What I am detecting as a strategic undercurrent has nothing to do with scale, the actual devices, or who physically pays the bill for a device. I see this as just another salvo being fired at the mythical IT Colossus. There is a growing sentiment that IT is an obstacle to be worked around instead of with. The descriptive attitude of 'in spite of' is appropriate here. What is lost is that IT is the repository of the lessons learned regarding how (IT) technology is best managed. Lost are the ROI lessons of giving everybody whatever they want due to personal preference.

BYOD is a daily consideration for IT as a field. It has been from the beginning. I beleive that IT resources are much akin to the tools in a mechanics shop. They wear out, new technologies and methods evolve, and there is always a new screw head shape being used unexpectedly. Do we require mechanics to bring their own tools, or do we provide them? And why? When they wear out, who is on the hook to pay for replacing them. And who actually needs access to them daily?

"Needs Basis" means not everyone actually needs a smartphone or tablet for their day-to-day jobs. So who is actually making this an issue? Why? And why do they feel they could possibly know anything more about a new fangled tech toy, than the tech obsessed technology people who actually understand what is happening "under the hood."

We have seen this scale of an issue before many times. Each time wearing a different costume. Think back to the era and consider adoption scale, scope, cheers and tears.
User Rank: Author
2/24/2014 | 8:14:24 PM
Re: BYOD: biggest pain points
Were those other waves on as large a scale, in terms of the people and devices involved? Even with BlackBerry, it was often 10%, maybne 20% of the worforce carrying one. Now nearly every employee at many companies has a smartphone, and the company has to make a decision about whether they access any work resources from it. Is that sufficiently different to drive a new response?
User Rank: Strategist
2/24/2014 | 7:54:50 PM
Re: BYOD: biggest pain points
I have yet to hear a serious discussion regarding the usage of existing corporate/business policies regarding "BYOD." The issue that I see is a loss of historical wisdom from the previous "BYOD" waves.

Background Points:

1. The IT infrastructure (as we know it today) was built on a succession of waves where consumer grade technology was brought into the office in answer to need.

2. In the early to mid-eighties, the desktop and "luggable" computers were introduced creating the evolution of the desktop policies.

3. In the early to mid- ninties, the introduction of LAN networking and subsequent WAN/Internet environments brought yet another set of core policy evolutions.

4. As laptops became more cost effective, the concepts of "data islands," mobility of workforce, and remote data security required refinement of the policies further.

5. The Blackberry phone. This one device, and the required refinements of policy regarding data access, ownership, loss mitigation, and overall system integration was staggering. It truly created the foundation of the mobile phone integration policy.

6. The still evolving landscape of wireless networking has created/is creating major refinements in the core networking policies, due to issues of BYOD "rogue AP" units.

7. Evolution of software solutions (i.e. MS SharePoint, Salesforce, and Portal systems) is further refining the balance between security and availability policy elements.

This is by far not a comprehensive list, but it does summarize the nature and domain of the current policies existance and evolution. It reveals that the concept of "BYOD" is not new on any standard of measure.

So, the critically needed question to be asked is, "Why are the existing, time proven, and process refined policies --that directly address the core technologies being presented-- considered insufficient/inappropriate to me this current evolution?" "What makes the fundamental nature of these devices, if any, different to require unique handling?"

I profesionally believe that the "issues" of this "BYOD" wave, have already been addressed in the evolution of our Best Practices policies. The lessons learned are all there. Why are we being forced to repeat past mistakes to come to the same conclusions?

I do not believe  the hype surrounding the issue of this actual minor "BYOD" wave has the substantial validity that media attention has created. I see the refinements of policy should actually be minor, when put in context of our previous lessons learned and why the policies evolved the way they did. I am willing to be wrong on this, and look forward to the results of the discussion.
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 5:37:43 PM
Re: Smart to be Uncomfortable
I had a CIO describe that exact scenario -- marketing was about to hire an outside firm to develop an app, IT only heard about it because there was one embedded IT person in marketing. They had to ask for the chance to bid on the job, and got it. 
Drew Conry-Murray
Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2014 | 3:41:44 PM
Smart to be Uncomfortable
Chris, I think if IT leaders aren't uncomfortable, they aren't paying attention. Your first question--will marketing even call IT?--is a killer one. And as you point out, it's not just about technological chops. It's also about relationships and understanding what the business needs.
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 3:29:20 PM
BYOD: biggest pain points
I will be moderating one of the BYOD panels and am looking forward to your pointed questions, IT pros. Chime in here if there is a particular aspect of consumerization and BYOD you'd like me to spend more time on. I look forward to meeting many of you at the conference.
User Rank: Author
2/20/2014 | 3:26:32 PM
IT As Revenue Source
We hear from time to time about an IT organization that has patented one or more of its innovations or is partnering with a tech startup to bring a product to market. Among them: UPMC, United Stationers, and Union Pacific. Besides having a company name that starts with U, these revenue-generating IT organizations seem to have a few things in common: They're in industries with specific technology needs that the big IT vendors don't/can't serve; they have CEOs willing to let their CIOs take some significant business risks; they have CIOs very much focused on (and measured on) the company bottom line. What else defines them?
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